Compulsion and Free Will in Our Actions
So now the question is when all of Allah’s creation is good, where does evil come from? We see that there are two aspects of a deed: first is its actual existence, and the second is its relation to its doer.
The topic of compulsion and free will has been hotly debated in intellectual discourses for as long as human mind started pondering over the issues of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and Divine justice, reward, and punishment. The issue has been discussed in all civilizations and has touched the cores of all great minds. Many a people have been led astray because they could not comprehend the issue in its entirety. One of the reasons for deviation has been looking at one aspect while neglecting the other and taking that one aspect to its extreme form as an argument. The Holy Qur’an, the Divine book of wisdom and guidance, does not leave this vital issue unanswered, but those who forsook the Teachers of this miraculous book – the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) – also as a result forsook the true light of guidance emanating from the Holy Book and thus lost the path.
Let us begin with the brief discussion of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in human deeds. All the creation of Allah is good: Allah is the Creator of everything. Indeed, as per traditions from the Ahlul Bayt, whatever can be categorized as a ‘thing’ is a creation. So except Allah, everything is creation, and now, “Who made good everything that He has created.” (32:7) Therefore, whatever Allah has created is good.
But at the same time we see that certain acts have been named evil by Allah: “Whoever brings a good deed, he shall have ten like it, and whoever brings an evil deed, he shall not be recompensed but only with the like of it.” (6:160)
So now the question is when all of Allah’s creation is good, where does evil come from? We see that there are two aspects of a deed: first is its actual existence, and the second is its relation to its doer. In their actual existence, the deeds are not evil, but when seen with respect to the relation to their doers, they can take the form of evil. Some examples could be: a sexual act – when the act is performed within the confines of marriage, it is considered a permissible or even recommended deed, but outside the parameters of a marital relationship, it is considered one of the worst forms of Divine disobedience. Likewise, if a man is killed according to Divine law in reprisal to a capital offense, it is considered good, but if a man is killed unjustly by criminals, it becomes evil. Therefore, all the creation of Allah is good, but the deviation from Divine laws leads to evil. The issue of misfortunes also has two angles to it. Every misfortune is created by Allah, and at that stage it is not evil, but when looked upon from man’s perspective when he loses some bounties of Allah as a result of the misfortune, it can be regarded as evil in his context.
After this brief discussion of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ comes the question of guidance and deviation and our free will or predetermination in such acts. We will take this issue along with the following discussion: the ownership of Allah of this whole universe is absolute, unconditional, and unlimited, whereas the ownership of His creatures is vertical and limited. Allah has allowed some of His creatures to use some things to a certain limits, but the user and used are His property, and the user cannot exceed the authorized limits. Allah disposes and manages His property as per His will, and no one can use anything except with His permission, because He is the real Owner and Sustainer of everything. Now, Allah Himself has given freedom to His servants to choose the right and wrong in their actions. He has made man seeing and hearing and has ordered him : “And follow not that of which you have not the knowledge; surely .the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of these shall be questioned about that.” (17:36) He has shown the way of the truth and has given freedom to choose: “Surely We have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful.” (76:03)
Allama Tabatabai in Al-Mizan elaborates on the issue: “He does not compel man to obey or to disobey the divine commands. Had there been any compulsion, rewarding the obedient ones with the paradise and punishing the disobedient ones with the hell would have been absolutely wrong: the reward would have been an unprincipled venture, and the punishment an unmitigated oppression and injustice, and all of it is evil according to reason. Moreover, it would mean favoring one against the other without any justification, without any cause – and this too is a demerit according to reason. Furthermore, it would provide the aggrieved party with a valid argument against Allah; but Allah says: ‘…so that people should not have an argument against Allah after the (coming of) apostles’ (4:165); ‘…that he who would perish might perish by clear proof, and he who would live might live by clear proof.’ (8:42)”
The Divine laws which are for the good of man’s life in this world and the Hereafter are not based on compulsion. Man has freedom to choose either to obey or disobey. When man chooses to obey, his capabilities are enhanced by Allah, and he walks more firmly on the path and sees more clearly, but when he chooses to disobey, as a result of his disobedience he obtains evil in his acts and furthers on the path of deviation as repeated sins blind the eyes. Man chose to disobey His commands in the first place, and as a result, he was left unguided and furthered into error : “He causes many to err by it, and many He leads aright by it, but He does not cause to err by it (any) except the transgressors.” (2:26) And “when they turned aside, Allah made their hearts turn aside.” (61:5) “Thus does Allah cause him to err who is extravagant, a doubter.” (40:34) The verses establish that transgressors, extravagant ones, or doubters are led astray by Allah. Man on his own choice adopted transgression, extravagance, or ignorance in first place, and as a punishment he is furthered into deviation. So we see that the Divine will has given man freedom of will; neither the Divine will negates human will, nor does human will collides with the Divine will. To conclude, we quote Imam Ali (peace be upon him) as quoted in Al-Mizan by Allama Tabatabai:
“It is reported in ‘Uyun a1-Akhbar through several chains: When the Leader of the Faithful Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) returned from Siffin, an old man (who has participated in that battle) stood up and said: ‘O Leader of the Faithful! Tell us about this journey of ours, was it by Allah’s decree and measure?’ The Leader of the faithful said: ‘Yes, O Shaikh! By Allah, you did not ascend any elevation, nor did you descend to any valley but by a decree of Allah and by His measure.’ The old man thereupon said: ‘I leave to Allah all my troubles (of this journey), O Leader of the Faithful!’ (The Imam) replied: “Have patience, O Shaikh! Perhaps you take it to mean a firm decree and a compulsory measure! If it were so, then there would be no justification of reward or punishment, no sense of command, prohibition or admonition, no meaning of promise or threat; there would not be any blame on an evil-doer nor any praise for a good-doer. Nay, the good-doer would have been rather more deserving of blame than the evil-doer, and the evil-doer rather more worthy of grace than the good-doer. (Beware!) this is the belief of the idol-worshippers and the enemies of the Beneficent God (who are) the Qadariyyah of this nation and its Majus. O Shaikh! Verily Allah ordained (the Shariah) giving freedom of will (to men) and prohibited (evil) to keep us on guard; and He gave plentiful (reward) for meager (deeds); and He was not disobeyed by being overpowered, nor was He obeyed by compulsion; and He did not create the heavens and the earth and what is between them in vain; that is the opinion of those who disbelieve on account of the fire.'”